April 8, 2017

Taiwan: Reporters Without Borders Chooses Taipei as Location for First Asian Office

Photo courtesy of The Daily Mail

Reporters Without Borders, a global organisation advocating for freedom of the press, has decided to base its first office in Asia in the Taiwanese city of Taipei. Also known as Reporters sans Frontières (RSF), the organisation originally planned to set up a new unit in Hong Kong, but ultimately decided against the location due to the disreputable state of media freedom within China. The choice to open their new office in Taiwan is reflective of the country’s democratic principles, support for human rights, and commitment to freedom of the press, particularly when compared with China’s unbridled censorship and clampdown on human rights NGOs.

 

The article below was published by The New York Times:

Reporters Without Borders, which advocates press freedom, announced on Thursday that it would open its first Asian bureau in Taipei, Taiwan’s capital, rather than in Hong Kong, which is increasingly under China’s sway.

“Hong Kong was the place where we originally wanted to open an office in Asia,” Christophe Deloire, the group’s secretary general, said in an email, adding, “It is not so easy now to run activities from there.”

Mr. Deloire said that the Paris-based organization, also known as Reporters Sans Frontières, decided against Hong Kong because of “a lack of legal certainty for our entity and activities.” He also cited the possibility that staff members would be put under surveillance.

The announcement is a reversal of fortune for both Hong Kong and Taiwan. When Reporters Without Borders was founded in 1985, Hong Kong was a British colony with a high degree of press freedom, while Taiwan was at the tail end of four decades of martial law.

Taiwan began its democratic transformation in the 1990s and now ranks 51st globally for press freedom, according to Reporters Without Borders. Hong Kong, a semiautonomous Chinese city, is 69th, while China is 176th.

“I don’t blame Reporters Without Borders for jilting Hong Kong,” said Claudia Mo, a Hong Kong legislator who was a journalist before entering government. Ms. Mo said that before returning to Chinese control in 1997, Hong Kong had led Asia in press freedom, but that under Chinese sovereignty, “it’s been going downhill.”

Mak Yin-ting, the former chairwoman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association and a member of its press freedom subcommittee, said that conditions had worsened under Hong Kong’s leader, Leung Chun-ying, who will step down on July 1.

Self-censorship, government manipulation and pressure from pro-Beijing media owners were cited by journalists as the main challenges in a recent survey by the association, Ms. Mak said. More than 70 percent of journalists polled said they thought press freedom had deteriorated in Hong Kong over the past year.

Neither Ms. Mak nor Ms. Mo expects things to improve under Mr. Leung’s successor, Carrie Lam, who was chosen by a committee dominated by people with close ties to Beijing. Ms. Lam has said she will uphold press freedoms in Hong Kong.

Taiwan, a self-ruled, democratic island, is also feeling pressure from China, which considers it a breakaway province.

“The main threat to media freedom comes from China, which has been exerting growing economic and political pressure on the Taiwanese media,” Taiwan’s profile on Reporters Without Borders’ website said.

For Taiwan, the group’s decision to set up in Taipei is a rare — and welcome — soft-power win. The bureau is scheduled to open in June.

“Because of difficulties owing to Taiwan’s diplomatic plight, strengthening ties with international NGOs that espouse universal values, such as R.S.F., will be a boost to Taiwan’s international participation,” said Hsu Kuo-yung, a spokesman for Taiwan’s government, referring to Reporters Without Borders using its initials in French.